Cnidus visiting notes

Odysseus Cruising – Cnidus visiting notes



A famous, 1000 year old harbour city of ancient Caria. Our visit to Cnidus is included in the holiday price (except site tickets) for our itineraries 1 & 3 – see itineraries section.

How to get there

The visit is part of an Odysseus cruise, itineraries 1 and 3; 3 ½ hours sailing south of Bodrum.

Time required

1 ½ – 2 hours minimum is needed to walk round the site on the mainland side from quayside to quayside. If time is available, 4 hours will be needed to visit the ex-island of Tropion, with its residential terraces and the fine circular tower by the trireme harbour.


Take bottled water from the boat. Small café/restaurant on site for other refreshments. No shopping.

The main things to see

Landed by ‘Odysseus’s tender-boat, we start from the edge of the commercial harbour where ‘Odysseus’ will anchor off-shore, not at a quayside.

1.    The Greek theatre by the commercial harbour (c. mid 4th century BC), modified by the Romans.

2.    The Roman Agora with ruined shops and fallen columns along the tall retaining walls. Some columns have been re-erected just behind the ticket-kiosk, then to the left.

3.    Late-dated city entrance gate.  Look to the left for a view of trireme harbour, then follow the stepped street (Harbour Street) and the marked path (white stones) up hill to:

4.    The Propylon at the crossroads of Harbour Street and the Main east-west street.  Note the ruined Ionic columns of finest white marble and also the main Roman sewers with vaulted top. The east-west smaller sewer joining a very large vaulted one which went down to the harbour.  A rare example of Roman sanitary engineering. Then look left into the Sacred Temenos of the ruined temple and the remains of:

5.    The Altar of the Temple of Apollo, noted for its three beautifully carved white marble pieces, all that is still preserved of what was undoubtedly a magnificent altar of the finest materials. (These three pieces show possibly the finest marble craftsmanship to be seen on the coast). They appear to be Roman in style. Above and overlooking the altar are stepped seats for viewing the religious show from the top of a high retaining wall.  Then follow the path on upwards to:

6.    The terrace and Temple of Aphrodite (or the ‘Round Temple’ as some archaeologists insist on calling it).  This was only uncovered in the 1960s and has been the subject of controversy.  Circular temples are rare and are known as ‘tholos’.  This is approx 17 metres diameter sitting on a podium surmounted by 18 columns likely to have been in the Doric style originally, replaced at sometime in the Roman period by low quality local stone plastered and topped by Corinthian caps. This is curious in view of the generally high quality masonry.

According to many, this is likely to have been where the renowned statue of the naked Aphrodite stood (carved by the famous sculptor Praxiteles). The statue become the symbol of the city and appears on coins from Cnidus. It is possible that it was a temple to more than one deity over time depending on when the Aphrodite statue was destroyed. Read Lucian for a contemporary early Roman view of the statue and its cult. Walk east on the path (marked by white stones) passing the large water cisterns constructed of fine Hellenistic masonry with waterproofing mortar inside. Eventually you will reach:

7.    The Corinthian Temple, a well-crafted late small example made entirely of white marble. Possibly the most sophisticated and expensive (for its size) building at Cnidus. It has a highly decorated Roman frieze and cornice.  One of the pediment’s corner stones with the slope of the pediment and showing the design solution of this difficult architectural problem. The angular crest of the top of the pediment also remains and the mason-prepared stone central pediment stone for a sculptor to finish carving.  We shall never know what he had in mind. Did they run out of money to pay the sculptor?  The cella of the temple is not surrounded by freestanding columns; instead the cella wall is ornamented on each side with seven engaged, semicircular Corinthian columns on the outside.  There were four columns at the east end and two in antis at the west end.  The whole site is on a 5ft high podium and would have looked striking from the harbour below.  See also nearby:

8.    The remains of a gigantic Doric Colonnaded Stoa, said to be by the architect Sostratus, the lighthouse architect (Cape Krio and Alexandria).  This would have been hugely impressive seen from the harbour but now sadly it need some imagination to picture this.  It measures 113.8 x 15.8 metres. Below is:

9.    Church B whose large and impressive ruins are unfortunately too overgrown to examine properly. However you can see the large apse at the east end of the nave and the remains of apses at the east end of the two aisles and the stepped ‘synthronon’ where the bishop and his priests sat.

In front of the altar position you can see inscriptions in Arabic which refer to Yazid, the son of Sultan Mu’awiya, the Sultan of Baghdad. In 674 AD it is said that Yazid was put in charge of a large fleet that was to sail from the Middle East against Constantinople.  At this time a great fleet had already destroyed cities including Cyprus, Rhodes and St. Nicholas’s Island. Walking on you will come to the back of the harbour side theatre.

On the side of the harbour opposite the results of recent excavations can be seen which show clearly parts of the terraces of the residential side of the commercial harbour. Clearly there is much more to explore – and even more be discovered – at this famous city.

If time is available there is the possibility of visiting the recently excavated terraces on the opposite side of the commercial harbour, the magnificent round tower outside (seaward side of the trireme harbour) and two more small Early Christian churches near the trireme harbour.

The Cnidus we visit in ‘Odysseus’ is the second city of that name as it was moved to this location near Cape Krio at the West end of the Resadiye peninsula from a position near Datca to the east.

The decision to move the location was a great act of policy taken by a council which saw the great advantages of the new site.  This made even greater by constructing a land bridge joining the seaward island (known as Tropion – Strabo 63BC-21AD).  The Datca, or Residiye Peninsula, was called Triopios (three-faced) in ancient times.

The masterplanning and construction of Cnidus was a huge undertaking and was based on a Hippodamian grid involved numerous terraces with surrounding walls, two harbours -one commercial, one military (for a trireme fleet), extensive city walls and bastions, a light house, an acropolis, two theatres, numerous temples over times some Greek, some Roman and five churches.  The Hellenistic masonry (the earliest) was fine orthogonal (rectangular coursed) although some early polygonal masonry can be seen on the slopes of the former Island of Tropion.

The earlier masonry has mortar-less joints as cement had not been discovered so that the stones had polished jointing surfaces for stability.  Later masonry used mortar in the joints of orthogonal masonry and the Byzantine masonry of uncut stones, often poorly assembled was dependant on large quantities of mortar, plastered over to present a seemly appearance.

Arches were used in Roman times as well as barrel-vaults (see the exits or vomitaria (exits) from the theatre by the harbour) and in the construction of the main sewers (see near the crossroads at the propylon).

Columns are constructed of drums with mortar-less joints in the Hellenistic Period and in Roman times using monoliths (single stone shafts – a Roman technique with imported granite or marble).  The stone used was mostly fine limestone but some conglomerate (like natural concrete) stone was used and cheaper blocks from cemented volcanic ash.

Cnidus is noted for the large quantity of fine white marble which was used.  It was carved to the highest standard (see the altar of the Temple of Apollo, the Corinthian (Roman) Temple on the principal terrace.

Undoubtedly the Round Temple or the Temple of Aphrodite would have had white marble columns (probably Doric) although they have disappeared and what remains is poor quality plastered Corinthian; no doubt a Roman reconstruction.

The quantity of white marble, which all had to be imported, indicates a very wealthy city at that time.  In Early Christian times, which were no doubt much poorer, the five churches were constructed with damaged pieces of fine buildings held together with plenty of cement mortar.

Cement, a manufactured product, probably because it was in short supply, was used sparingly, so walls were less strong and more easily destroyed by natural or man-made catastrophes.